A Shadow Short Story By Scarlet

[Author's Note: The characterizations in this story are based on the 1994 movie The Shadow...Scarlet]

Though air travel in the U.S. was just beginning to spread through the country in 1934, rail travel was still the best way to get to most remote locations—relaxing, relatively fast, and luxurious for those who could afford it. The clicking of wheels on steel rails provided the soothing rhythm most travelers needed to rest from the stresses of travel, and that clicking only slowed down when the train pulled into a it was doing now.

A conductor came over to a couple resting in each other's arms in one of the first class seats as the train approached a station in the Catskill Mountains of New York. "Excuse me, sir," he said, tapping the man on the shoulder.

Lamont Cranston stirred from sleep, then looked up at the conductor. "Yes?"

"We're pulling into the Frost Valley station now."

"Thank you."

The conductor nodded and walked away.

Lamont gave Margo Lane a kiss on the top of her head. "Wake up, sleepyhead. We're here."

Margo yawned and stretched. "Already?" she said in a murmur. "It seems like we just left."

"That's because you fell asleep before we were out of the city limits."

"Mm-m." She sat up and stretched again. "I'm so tired. Hope I'm not coming down with something."

Lamont smiled gently. "Well, if you are, we'll soon be at the inn. Warm fireplace...soft feather bed...down comforters...and peace and quiet."

"Good. I've been looking forward to this."

Lamont caressed her cheek. "So have I." He helped her stand as the train stopped, and held her coat as she slipped into it. "Ready to go?"

"More than ready."

"Good." He put on his own coat, then took her hand. "A restful holiday awaits."

"Then let's get started."

The two of them stepped off the train together.

The bellman brought Lamont and Margo's luggage into the honeymoon suite. "Here you go, sir," he said. "Will there be anything else?"

Lamont offered a tip. "Some privacy."

The bellman smiled knowingly. "Of course, sir." He left quietly.

Margo gave a teasing glare to her fiance. "Scandalous, Mr. Cranston," she mock-scolded. "An unmarried couple, sharing the honeymoon suite."

He looked innocent. "It was the only room in the inn with enough room for both of us and our luggage."

She sauntered over to him. "Whatever will people say?"

He took her in his arms. "Ask me if I care."

They kissed deeply, dramatically, passionately, drinking each other in with their lips. It seemed as if they would never break...but break they did, pulling back and looking in each other's eyes. "Happy anniversary, Margo," he said with a smile.

She beamed back. "Hard to believe it was a year ago this week we first met."

"I'll never forget it. You were so beautiful."

"And you were so mischievous. Ordering my wine for me and making me think I was hungry for Peking Duck." She giggled at the memory.

"As I recall, you weren't exactly innocent as you sauntered into the Cobalt Club. You kept looking at me across the room until I'd look up at you, then you'd hold my gaze for a second and look away."

"Face it, Lamont. You're hard to resist." Another giggle. "You wouldn't happen to have brought a bottle of..."

"...1928 Mouton Rothchild? In my trunk."

"I knew you'd do something like that." She hugged him tightly. "I can't believe you actually agreed to leave the city for a whole week."

He raised an eyebrow. "We've gone on vacation before."

"Yes, but I usually have to drag you kicking and screaming. I can't believe you not only agreed we should go away somewhere, but actually offered to plan the trip." She let go and walked around the room, marveling at its rustic luxury. "And why this place?"

He smiled. "Seven years ago, I arrived back in New York City after over ten years out of the country, fighting wars both sanctioned and unsanctioned. I'd been living in the mountains of Tibet for five years, the last year of it surrounded by telepathic monks and initiates. I thought The Tulku had prepared me to face anything...until I got to New York." He grimaced slightly at the memory. "I'm not the most receptive of telepaths—my receptive strength is only about a quarter of my projective power. But I'm not completely unreceptive...and when I arrived in New York, I thought my head was going to burst. My God, the place was loud. I literally thought I was going crazy the first couple of days. No matter what I did or where I went, the voices never stopped. Finally, after trying to quiet the voices in my head for a full week, I couldn't take it any more. I packed a bag and went down to Grand Central Station, slapped a bill on the ticket counter, and said I wanted to go somewhere quiet. The man at the ticket window smiled, gave me a ticket, and told me to get off at Frost Valley."

"He sent you to the mountains," she smiled.

"And it was just what I needed. I stayed here for a week, meditating, restoring my focus, getting my head together again." A wry smile. "I knew it was time to go back when I foiled a bank robbery because I'd been walking the streets unseen and happened upon it."

She laughed. "Even then, you couldn't take a vacation."

"No, I couldn't. But whenever I just can't take it any more, I pack my bags and head out here. It always helps. I come back feeling stronger and more focused, filled with a sense of peace." He took her in his arms again. "And I wanted to share that peace with you."

She smiled broadly. "You're wonderful."

"So are you."

They kissed again, deeper and richer than before, finally breaking before it was too late. "Hungry?" he suggested.

"Starved," she replied.

"Then let's go downstairs." He walked over to his steamer trunk, opened it, then fished out the bottle of 1928 Mouton Rothchild. "I think this will go nicely with whatever we're having. Besides, the restaurant is BYOB."

"You think of everything."

"I try." He offered his arm, and they headed downstairs.

Dinner was a romantic meal of brook trout, fresh vegetables, and apple pie to die for. The inn was quiet; only a handful of other couples shared the dining room with them. The wait staff, clearly recognizing Lamont from previous trips, were anxious to give him anything he wanted; the service could not have been any better. Margo again marveled at how Lamont handled people; everything was smooth as could be, the perfect start to what she hoped would a perfect week for the two of them together, away from the stresses of the city and the evil in the shadows.

After dinner, they took the remainder of the wine and a pair of glasses upstairs to their room, and stepped out onto the balcony in the cold December air, sipping wine and stargazing. "It is so beautiful out here," she sighed. "So quiet. No car noise."

He draped her mink stole over her shoulders, then slipped on his own coat and put his arms around her from behind. "Now you know why I love this place."

She settled into his embrace. "Was Tibet this quiet?"

"Sometimes." He looked wistful at the memory. "Sometimes, though, the mental voice of a student learning thought projection would ring through the temple for hours and hours. And the sound of a projector awakening was unbearably loud at times. A different kind of cacophony than New York, but just as unsettling."

She took a sip of wine and giggled. "That loud, were you?"

He chuckled. "Yes, my voice rang through the temple more than once. There weren't many projectors at The Temple Of The Cobras. But when one of us awakened, everyone knew it."

Margo tensed a little bit as the question she needed to ask entered her mind. But she steeled herself and her nerve. "What about receptors? How do they awaken?"

He kissed the side of her head, letting a gentle relaxation suggestion drift from his mind. Her psychic awakening was very close, and they both knew it. He wished she would just relax and let it happen, because fighting it and worrying about it only made it more painful. But he also knew she had the right to know as much about the experience as he could share with her. "Much more quietly. Their minds cry out for help, too, but they pull everything in toward themselves. They're bombarded with everyone else's thoughts while they're awakening. I've been told the pain is about equal, but it feels like a smothering weight collapsing everything inward instead of an explosion pushing outward." He finished his glass of wine, then hugged her close. "But I can think of much more pleasant things to talk how beautiful this would look on your right hand."

She looked down at the small black velvet box he had pressed into her hand. "What is this?"

"Just something I should have given you months ago. We are engaged, remember?"

She looked astounded. "I hadn't expected a ring...I mean, I already wear one to show my bond with you..."

"I know. But I wanted to give you something special, something to mark the occasion, something you could show off if you wanted to." He turned her to face him. "Margo, there is absolutely nothing I would not do for you. You give me so much. Allow me to give you something in return."

She smiled. "I have all I'll ever need. I have you."

"That's the way I feel, too. But I still want you to have this. Go ahead."

"O.K." She opened the box...and gasped at the marquis-cut diamond that blinked back at her. "Lamont!"

He grinned mischievously. It was just the reaction he'd been looking for. "Too small?"

She stood speechless for a moment. "I've seen chandelier prisms that were smaller," she finally replied. "My God...Lamont, this must have cost you a fortune!"

"If I'd bought it, it would have." He slipped it out of the box. "It was my mother's. I had it reset because her fingers were larger than yours...and because it was in this hideously wide cigar-style band that hid the stone instead of bringing it out." He took her right hand, then slid the ring on her third finger.

Her eyes widened. The diamond was larger than the fire opal on her left hand—three carats, easily—and the delicate gold and platinum setting made it look even bigger. "'s beautiful!" She threw her arms around him.

He hugged her close. "Glad you like it."

"Of course I like it. I love it." She pulled back and gave him a mock-stern glare. "I knew you were plotting something. You've been shielding your thoughts from me for days now."

He gave a triumphant smirk. "It's hard enough for a man to surprise his lady when she isn't telepathic."

"You are so naughty."

"I thought that was why you liked me."

"No...this is." She pulled him close, and their lips met in a deep, passionate kiss.

Normally, they made a conscious effort to build the passion slowly, to draw out and lengthen the pleasure each could bring to the other. But there was no tentativeness in their kissing tonight, no gentle probing pecks to make sure this was what each of them wanted. They were practically devouring each other, caught up in a rush of emotion, a torrent of desire that swept around them as they felt free of the shackles of the roles they were expected to play back in the city. Tonight, they were not the pillar of society and his socialite companion, nor The Shadow who had to stalk the night in search of evil and the indulgent fiancee who had to cover for him. Tonight, they were Lamont and Margo, two physical, emotional, and psychic soulmates who needed each other so badly they could not stop themselves...and who had absolutely no desire to do so.

Lamont swept her off her feet and into his arms, then carried her back inside and closed the door to the balcony. "Bit warmer in here," he commented.

"That's because we're wearing too many layers." She shrugged her mink stole off and tossed it aside to reveal her bare shoulders and low-cut neckline.

He couldn't hide the desire in his eyes. "Well, that's a start."

She loosened his tie. "And I never start something I can't finish."

In one move, they were both on the bed, wrapped in each other's arms. "Neither do I."

Their lips met once more in a fiery, passionate kiss.

The light of morning peeked through the French doors to the balcony, drifting across the bed where Lamont and Margo still held each other close as they slept. Margo winced as the sun began to press against her eyelids. "Oh...ow...somebody turn off the lights," she groaned.

Lamont awoke at the sound of her voice, then rolled over and looked at the bright sunshine. "That is annoying, isn't it?" he replied, climbing out of bed. He pulled the drapes to cover the doors and subdue the light. "Better?"

She nodded. "Thanks."

He climbed back into bed and kissed her forehead.

She winced.

"Headache this morning?" he asked.

She nodded. "That'll teach me to help kill a bottle of Mouton Rothchild." She rubbed her eyes and winced again.

He touched her forehead. "You're a little warm, too. Want some aspirin?"

"I'll get it. I have to get up anyway. Nature calls." She groaned as she got out of bed. "I can't believe I'm coming down with something while we're on vacation."

"Then I'll just have to nurse you back to health." A chuckle. "I can think of worse ways to spend a week."

She headed into the bathroom.

He sighed. She must be sick. She walked right by her train case without getting the aspirin.

"Lamont, I forgot the aspirin," she called. "Can you get it for me?"

He shook his head. My love the mind-reader, he mentally joked. He got out of bed and opened the toiletries case that was sitting on the dresser, then looked through it, frowning slightly.

"It's on your left," he heard her call.

He looked toward the bathroom. "Excuse me?"

She opened the door, then leaned against the doorframe and rubbed her eyes before looking over at him. "You asked where I'd hid the aspirin. It's on the left, near the front of the case."

He looked at her again.

"Of course I can hear you." She winced noticeably. "You are thinking awfully loudly this morning."

His eyes widened. He knew for a fact he wasn't deliberately projecting...and that could only mean...

Her eyes widened. "Oh, my God...I'm awakening?"

He looked shocked. If she was awakening, her mind would be incredibly sensitive to any kind of thought right now, but he had to know for certain if this was it. He bounced a light projective wave off her psyche.

"Ow!" she cried out, holding her head as if she'd been struck.

A reflection of a psychic barrier shaking from the strain came back to him. He hurried over to her. "I didn't mean to hurt you...I'm sorry."

"I know," she replied, her voice pained. She held her head. "Oh, God..."

"Easy...easy..." He slowly led her back toward the bed. "Lie down. Try to relax."

She climbed under the covers and looked up at him, her eyes showing pain and fear. " me..."

He stroked her cheek, unable to hide the sorrow in his expression. "I wish I could," he whispered softly. "Try to relax. It hurts more if you fight it."

"How could it hurt more?" She rubbed her temples, grimacing as the pain grew more intense. "Oh, God, it feels like someone's tightening a vise around my head!"

"I know." Lamont took her hand. Part of him wanted to project into her mind and push outward for her against the incredible implosive pressure that was building up inside her psyche. But the other part of him knew he had to let the awakening run its course or her powers would be locked away forever. "I hate to see you hurting like this. I have been where you are and I know exactly how much pain you're in. I would take it away from you if I could. But I can't. All I can do is stay with you until it passes." He gently kissed her forehead. "Let go, Margo. Give in to the pain. It really is for the only hurts worse if you struggle."

She looked up at him. "I'm so scared..."

"I'm here." He clasped both hands around the hand he held. "No matter how long it takes, no matter what happens, I am here for you. And when it's over, I'll still be here." He gently kissed her hand. "Now, let go. Let it happen. Let your mind awaken."

Their eyes met. Sheer terror looked out of hers. Loving compassion looked out of his.

Suddenly, she began trembling with pain, moaning softly...then louder...then she let out a shriek of terror and agony so loud it shook the windows.

Lamont felt something grab hold of his mind and rip through it, as if it were trying to pull every ounce of thought energy from it. Instinctively, he shored up his subconscious barriers and reflected the intrusion away.

He didn't think it was possible Margo could scream any louder...but she did, crying out and arching her back as she writhed in agony.

Lamont suddenly realized what he'd done. Oh, my love, I am so sorry, he mentally told her. I didn't mean to hurt you. I should have realized... He let the thought trail off as he kicked himself internally.

Once more, the implosive waves of a receptive awakening pulled through his mind, sweeping thoughts out of it like leaves in a fall gust, and pressure began to build against his subconscious barriers. Margo was sobbing, anguish etched into her expression, as the assault on her psyche continued.

We're locked in a deadly embrace, he realized. Or at least a very painful one. Her mind is pulling with all its might...and every time I push back against it to relieve the pressure, it causes her pain. But if she keeps pulling like this, I'm the one who's going to break from the pain.

A knock at the door got his attention. He got out of bed, sashed his robe, and walked over to the door. "Yes?" he called.

"Mr. Cranston?" the manager's voice called back.

Lamont opened the door. "Yes?"

"Is everything all right in there? Several guests reported hearing screams."

Lamont sighed and rubbed his eyes. Time to concoct a believable cover story, just when his mind had only a tenuous grasp on control. "My companion woke up in a lot of pain this morning. She's running a high fever."

"Oh, my. Do you need a doctor?"

"No, no. This happens a lot—she gets some real killer headaches sometimes. Good thing I remembered to bring her treatments. She just needs some rest." He started to go, then turned back. "I could use a few things to make us both more comfortable, though—some more firewood, a pot of tea, and a large bowl for water."

"Of course, sir. Anything else?"

Lamont reached over to the dresser and flipped open his wallet, then pulled out a $20. "A flannel nightgown. Woman's size medium. She forgot to pack one."

The manager nodded. "I see," he replied, distaste in his tone.

Lamont looked annoyed. The last thing he wanted to deal with was questions and snide remarks about an unmarried couple sharing a room. And no questions, Lamont ordered sternly.

The manager's eyes glazed over, then he blinked and pinched the bridge of his nose, as if trying to stem a headache himself. "Of course, Mr. Cranston. I'll have your firewood, your tea, and a bowl brought up, and go out for your nightgown shortly."

"Thank you." Lamont closed the door, then leaned against it. The brief release of the hypnotic projection had helped immensely; the pressure inside his psyche was now back at a manageable level. He looked over to Margo.

The beauty writhed in pain, still moaning and crying. Her mind was still pulling every thought energy wave it could touch into itself, like a whirlpool drawing everything around it into a spiraling drain.

Lamont climbed into bed next to her, gently pulling the covers around her and stroking the hair off her face. My beautiful Margo, he sighed. My beautiful, beautiful Margo. I wish I could make this easier on you. No one deserves to be in this much pain. He gently reached out and probed her mind.

The swirling, absorbing receptive energy reservoir whose depth he had only been able to guess at before looked vast before his view now...and was widening and deepening with each passing second. This, he knew, was stage one of a full awakening—the stage where the full extent of the telepathic gifts unfolded. This stage often took hours on a telepath with only moderate abilities; in his awakening, it had taken nearly two days for the full extent of his projective powers to become visible. But as her mind opened up ever wider, the assaults of external thoughts would increase as well. The pain she was feeling now would only get worse before it got better. And the increasing pain brought an increase in blood pressure, which brought on the danger of a cerebral hemorrhage, while the increasing presence of other thoughts in the mind brought the risk of driving an unstable mind toward insanity.

An image of Margo as a young girl appeared at the corners of her memory. Other images soon joined it. This was the beginning of stage two of a full awakening, a stage that often ran alongside stage one—the stripping away of the old self through bringing old memories to the surface so that they could be faced and dealt with, exposing closed-off sections of the mind to cleanse itself and its host of all negative thoughts and emotions, all resistance and impurity. This stage was also fraught with dangers; The Tulku had often spoken of students going mad as their memories and emotions raged through their minds unrestrained, and bodies falling ill with incurable diseases as their system went through a deep cleansing that left them very vulnerable. In Lamont's case, there was so much mental and physical impurity and resistance to cleanse that stage two overlapped stage one and ran long past it for the better part of five days.

And then, there was the third stage, perhaps the most dangerous—the complete draining and release of the remaining psychic energies, leaving a blank canvas behind. The emptiness that resulted was terrifying, a sense of isolation that, if not battled through quickly enough, would lead to catatonia. This was the major reason it was dangerous for a telepath to go through an awakening alone—someone needed to be there to aid the telepath in returning to full consciousness so the mind could begin rebuilding itself. Lamont remembered whispered stories of members of his mother's family who'd "just gone crazy one day" and spent the rest of their lives in catatonic states in sanitariums far away from the rest of the family; The Tulku had told him that they were probably awakening telepaths who did not make it out of stage three because no one recognized what was happening and the strength of their awakenings had frightened them so deeply inside themselves that they didn't dare come out on their own. This stage had taken Lamont over twelve hours to get through, and he remembered all too clearly the sense of isolation that he had felt as the voices and chaos around him gradually turned to an all-encompassing darkness...and the soothing comfort of The Tulku's voice as it penetrated the darkness, commanding him to open his eyes and speak his name as a sign that his sanity had survived intact.

Three stages of awakening. Three stages of dangers. And Lamont Cranston was all that stood between those dangers and the very vulnerable Margo Lane. He kissed her forehead. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to help you, Margo. But I'll give it everything I have.

She moaned again, crying out as her mind continued to expand farther than it ever had before, experiencing its first dose of the incredible receptive power she would be able to wield when she finally gained control. But right now, that control seemed far off.

Morning moved through the afternoon into early evening, and Margo was still deep in the first two stages of her awakening, her psyche still expanding and her memories starting to fly through her mind. Her fever was up as her psychic energies surged, and she was shivering as a result, even though she was now clad in the red plaid flannel nightgown the innkeeper had thoughtfully brought back from town.

Lamont stoked the fire with fresh firewood, then replenished the water in the large bowl with some fresher cool water and headed back over to the bed to minister to Margo. The past few hours had been an exercise in controlled release; as her expanding receptive reservoir had pulled on his deep projective one, the pressure against his own mental barriers had increased to the point where the pain was almost unbearable, but pushing back against the intrusion forced too much energy all at once into her mind and caused her incredible pain. The only solution was to keep a near-constant stream of projective energy flowing from his mind—it eased the pressure on his barriers down to a manageable level and satisfied the ravenous hunger of her growing psyche.

He sat on the edge of her side of the bed and gently dabbed her forehead with the damp cloth as she tossed fitfully, still mentally crying out for help. You're doing fine, Margo, he soothed. You're doing just fine. He wasn't sure she could hear him, or process his words even if she could hear them, but the release of telepathic conversation eased some of the stresses inside his psyche and helped him stay focused on caring for her. Besides, it made him feel like he was at least doing something for her besides just sitting and watching.

She let out a woeful moan.

He set the bowl aside and reached into her mind to check her progress.

Dark memories were surfacing of a difficult childhood and adolescence. Constantly moving around as her father went from one research task at one university to another task at a completely different university. Constantly being the misfit in strange schools. Feeling as ugly, as fat, as dumb as the other children said she was. Feeling neither as smart as her father nor as beautiful as her mother. Feeling frightened as a migraine headache overwhelmed her in class one day, brought on by overly-chatty schoolmates who just wouldn't stop talking, creating an endless stream of voices that kept ringing through her head. Feeling alone when her mother, the only person who seemed to understand her, was suddenly taken from her by illness, leaving her with a father overwhelmed by his own grief.

Lamont smoothed out the covers around her, then took her hand and wiped away a tear of pain that flowed down her cheek. You and I have a lot more in common than we've ever talked about. I felt like a misfit, too, a horrible disappointment to both sides of my family. I hated business talk and couldn't have cared less about social grace and refinement. He stroked her hair. But you didn't allow it to drag you down into darkness. Somehow, you kept on the right path, even after your partial awakening overwhelmed you that day and made you feel so frightened, even after losing your mother and feeling like you were completely misunderstood by your father. How? You must have had strength even then that I didn't develop until much later in life. A gentle smile. And you weren't fat, or ugly, or dumb. I see in your memories a girl as delicate as a prize orchid, and just as beautiful. And you were so smart. That's why they taunted you so. Most boys don't like it when girls are smarter than they are...bruises the fragile male ego. And girls can be just as cruel. A chuckle. I know I hated smart girls. But I learned the hard way that even the wisest of men learn something from everyone. I've had my fill of empty-headed women. I'd rather spend the rest of my days with an equal.

She moaned again, tears once more flowing down her cheeks. Lamont listened for the sound of footsteps in the hallway, and wasn't at all surprised to hear a couple of chattering women walking by. Every time someone passed the door, every time an occupied mind came into proximity, her absorbing receptive reservoir would draw those thoughts into her, causing more pain. Part of him wanted to shout at the top of his mental voice and order everyone to leave so Margo would be able to awaken in peace. But the part of him that was trying to be a calm center in the midst of her chaos kept reminding him that at least they weren't back in the city, where the volume of voices just driving down the streets outside either of their homes would be guaranteed to drive her insane. He stroked her cheek reassuringly and moved through her mind again, checking on other areas of her progress.

The receptive reservoir was much deeper than it had been last time he'd looked. And now, alongside it, a smaller but still sizeable projective reservoir with a bit of energy already in it was visible. Oh, my, he mentally commented. I am definitely going to be spending the rest of my days with an equal. Good God, I can't believe it. I knew you had power, my dear, but I would never have guessed you'd be this strong. A chuckle. The Tulku wouldn't tell me how much power I had. He didn't want me to know; he wanted me to discover it for myself. It wasn't until after my projective breakthrough that he finally told me I was the strongest projector he'd ever met. But I won't keep this from you. I couldn't, even if I tried. If I thought you could read me like a book before you awakened... He shook his head. All this am I supposed to train you to handle all this? I learned years ago I was no teacher; the best I could do was push someone to learn for themselves. But all this receptive power you have...I'll never be able to adequately show you how to handle it. I have enough trouble making mine work the way I want it to.

She cried out again as more footsteps and voices came down the hallway.

He frowned and bit back the urge to order them to go away, taking several deep breaths to calm his anger and focus on caring for Margo. He kissed her hand. I know it hurts, Margo. Believe me, I know. But you're doing fine.

She moaned, shivering even as she tossed off the covers, trying to escape the chaos that was engulfing her.

He put his hands firmly on her shoulders and held her down. Easy, Margo, easy. I know you just want to run away, far away, some place where you can escape the cacophony. But keep this up and you'll only hurt yourself. Rest, love. Lie still. He pulled the covers over her and reached for the washcloth to cool her brow.

She tossed the covers off again and cried out louder.

He held her down even more firmly. Margo, stop that. I know it hurts. But you're going to hurt yourself if you don't lie still. He once more covered her up, then retrieved the bowl of water and set it in his lap as he wrung out the washcloth.

She lashed out once more, knocking the bowl off-balance and into his chest, drenching him with the water.

Dammit! he mentally shouted, leaping off the bed.

She cringed and seemed to draw back from him.

For a moment, he just stood there, torn between apologizing to her for losing his temper and letting loose a psychic shout to relieve the stress and the incredible pressure inside his head. Then, he looked himself over and started laughing. I suppose I did need a bath today, he said.

She still looked pained, but now there were tears running down her cheeks.

He bent over and kissed her tears away. I'm sorry, my dear Margo. You couldn't help it. And when you wake up, you can fuss at me all you like. But for right now, rest.

She let out a hard sigh and a soft moan, then lay quietly.

He reached into her mind to make certain she was still all right and felt the ebb and flow of her psychic energies as they continued to expand. Smiling, he wiped the cold sweat off her brow, then gave her another kiss and went to refill the water bowl.

Hours passed for both Lamont and Margo as the awakening continued. Occasionally, Margo would lash out or cry out again, but as the inn settled down for the evening, the pain inside her battered psyche eased, and she lay quietly for longer periods until she finally seemed to almost be sleeping in the depths of the night, albeit quite restlessly.

Lamont stoked the fire and sipped his tea. He'd had the manager bring up a cast-iron kettle he could set directly in the fireplace to heat water, as well as a tin of tea and a pot to brew it in so that he wasn't calling for room service at all hours. As he sipped, it occurred to him he hadn't eaten since the night before...and had not the least desire to do so. I used to wonder how The Tulku did it—how he could spend days caring for his students, subsisting on just meditation, prayer, and tea, he mused. Now I know. Throw your heart and soul into it, and there is nothing you can't do.

Margo let out a moan, then a louder cry.

Lamont moved beside her and reached into her mind.

Another set of memories were now playing through her psyche—college years, life in the big city in the roaring 20's. He watched her memories of blossoming into a beauty who knew what she was...and how to use her beauty and charm as a weapon. My, my. Quite a trail of broken hearts you left there, my dear Miss Lane. Did you really keep all that jewelry that politician's son gave you? Oh, yes, you did; I recognize that necklace...and that brooch. Did you really leave that jazz musician high and dry in New Orleans? And someone really jumped off a roof after you left him for his best friend? You hate that you were that cruel, I know; your emotions are just pouring out right now. But it just seemed so easy at the time, didn't it? I always thought it was.

She began weeping once more as the pain of the awakening and the pain of the memories mingled.

He shook his head. Listen to me, trying to rationalize and make it sound like our deeds were so similar. I know reliving all of this seems so cruel to you—having to see all the things you hated doing, seeing a person you hated being. But your mind needs to purge itself, cleanse itself of its pain. Dealing with power like ours is hard enough—adding guilt on top of it only makes the burden that much heavier. Believe me, I know. Reliving my deeds was necessary to get me to accept responsibility for them, so that I could learn from my past instead of repeating it endlessly. I still struggle with the burden of bearing that guilt. The love you give me helps me find the strength to bear it, to face it. Even after learning about everything I've done, you still love me, still want to share the rest of your life with me. So don't ever doubt that I don't give a damn about anything you've done in the past—I love you with everything I have and everything I am. He wiped the tears from her cheeks.

She turned her face and rested it on his hand, moaning softly from the pain.

He smiled. At least the awakening hadn't damaged her memories of him. He wiped her brow with the damp cloth, then stroked her cheek softly.

She nuzzled against his hand.

He wiped away another tear with his thumb. He longed to take her in her arms, climb inside her mind and banish the pain, keep her safe from the psychic assaults that had bombarded her for hours now. But that would cause her more harm than good, and he had to keep reminding himself of that. The best thing he could do for her now was to stay focused on being a calm presence in the midst of her chaos...and pray it would be enough.

Pray. Now that was one thing he hadn't tried. The Tulku used to pray for hours upon end as his students awakened, asking for the strength, serenity, and spirituality to be all things to his students that they needed him to be. And it seemed to work. Of course, Marpa Tulku was considered a living Buddha. Lamont Cranston was just a derelict Catholic. But, he decided, it couldn't hurt.

He crossed himself, then looked skyward. "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name..."

As morning's first light peeked through the room, Lamont finished the Rosary for the second time. He was getting ready to fix a pot of tea and start it a third time when the sound of someone pounding on a door down the hall got his attention. Little early for that kind of commotion, he groused mentally.

The banging got more insistent. "Harvey!" a woman's shrill voice shouted. "Harvey Thompson, open this door!" More banging. "I know you're in there—and you've got that secretary of yours in there with you!"

Oh, lovely, he thought as the banging and shouting continued. A domestic disturbance. And the innkeeper was giving me the business. Wonder how many illicit trysts this place hosts a year?

Margo let out a low moan of pain.

He came over to the bed and gently stroked Margo's cheek. Sorry, love, he apologized. I keep forgetting you can hear me no matter how quietly I try to think. He gave her a gentle kiss. I'll call the manager and have him send someone to deal with our noisy neighbors. He reached for the phone.

A hard slap and a scream reached his ears. Lamont opened the door and looked out in the hallway.

The woman he'd heard shouting was holding her face as she leaned against the wall across from one of the rooms. An angry man in the doorway was shaking a finger at her. "You dumb broad," he said. "What are you tryin' to do, wake up the whole hotel? I already told ya, it's over between us. Now, go home to your mother! Get outta here!"

She looked shocked, then furious. "Oh, yeah?" She fumbled with her purse, then pulled out a pistol.

Harvey's eyes widened. "Brenda, no!"

Lamont started to cast a clouding suggestion, then stopped. No, Cranston, you idiot, he told himself. You can't. You promised her you'd stay with her. You swore you'd be there for her.

"You can't treat me this way!" Brenda cried, cocking the pistol.

The mission comes first, Lamont.

Lamont couldn't tell if that was Margo's voice, or a memory of it, or his mind telling him what he wanted to hear. But it didn't matter. If he didn't act, evil would come out of the shadows, through Brenda's gun, and claim Harvey's life. And he'd sworn an oath to the man who'd saved him years ago to use his gifts to fight that evil no matter what. He concentrated his powers and dissolved from view. Drop the gun, Brenda.

Brenda looked confused for a moment.

Drop it!

Her hands shook, then the gun fell to the floor.

Harvey took advantage of the situation and dove for the pistol...and it disappeared as he reached for it. "What the...?" he said softly.

A peal of mirthless laughter answered him, echoing off the walls. Did you really think either of you could hide your dark intentions from me?

"What is that?" Brenda asked, looking around frantically.

"The Shadow," Harvey whispered, suddenly frightened.

"Here?" Brenda replied.

Another mocking laugh. Of course. Your dark intentions brought me here, Brenda Thompson. And your dark secrets brought her here, Harvey Thompson.

Both of them shook. "Don't hurt us, Shadow," Harvey begged.

Oh, I have no intention of hurting either of long as you don't give me a reason to. A low, threatening chuckle. Now...both of you are going to leave this hotel at once. Together. You will go home and work out your differences. And you will do it now.

"But it's over between us," Harvey reasoned.

"But...what if I don't want him back?" Brenda asked.

You wouldn't have come all the way here if you didn't. And I hardly think it's over between you two. A chuckle. Leave everything behind, Harvey. Take her hand.

Harvey and Brenda looked at each other. Then, he reached out his hand.

She hesitated, then took it.

Now, go. Quietly. There are people trying to sleep on this floor.

The couple looked at each other again for a moment...this time with apologetic eyes. Then, they walked toward the elevator together, never noticing the open door with no one standing in the doorway as they passed by it.

When the elevator door had closed, Lamont unclouded and looked toward the now-visible gun, concentrating slightly.

It quivered, then jumped off the floor and into his right hand.

Satisfied, Lamont closed the door to the room, tossed the gun onto the dresser, and turned to Margo.

She was stiff as a board, rigid with pain, face contorted in agony, tears streaming down her cheeks as she wailed.

He kicked himself. You heard all that. You felt all that. You would have had to. There was no way you couldn't have. He sat by her side. Margo, I am so sorry. I had to stop them the only way I could without leaving the room. He pounded his fist into the palm of his hand. But not only did I hurt you, I turned my back on you when you were in the most pain. He took her hand. Some protector I am.

She was still crying, still agonized. He wiped away her tears.

She nuzzled into his hand again as he touched her cheek.

He couldn't believe it. She still wanted him there, clearly. He smiled, then kissed her hand.

Gradually, she quieted down. He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, then glanced at the mantle clock. Barely twenty-four hours since all this started. Let's see how you're doing. He touched her mind.

It was still expanding, but the pace had slowed substantially. The immense size of her psychic reservoir had only changed slightly since the last time he'd looked.

Stage one is just about done, he noted. And you are not going to believe what it left behind. But you've got a lot farther to go. Hang in there, Margo. You're doing fine.

The pain looked to be easing as she relaxed and settled into the pillows.

He stood up and stretched. As painful as it had been for her, the projective release had done him an enormous amount of good. His mind no longer felt as if it would snap if it were pulled any tighter, and the pressure against his subconscious barriers had eased tremendously. He gave her a gentle smile, then stoked the fire to settle in for the remainder of the awakening.

The day passed very slowly. Lamont fought the urge to yawn and forced himself to get up and walk around for a bit to keep himself awake. It had been over 36 hours since he'd last slept, and nearly 48 since he'd eaten. Not for the first time since Margo's awakening began, he found himself longing to talk to Marpa Tulku and find out how the old master managed to keep himself going through the worst strains of young students with powerful but out-of-control minds. During Lamont's awakening, The Tulku had gone five whole days and well into a sixth without eating or sleeping. The self-discipline it must have taken to do that was something Lamont knew he didn't possess; he was having enough trouble getting through the second day of Margo's awakening. The tea helped his hunger pangs, but constantly drinking without any food to go with it was getting old. He'd prayed the Rosary so many times that the words to "Hail Mary" and "The Lord's Prayer" were starting to run together in his mind. He put some fresh firewood on the fire, then opened the doors to the balcony and took in lungfulls of fresh air to try and keep himself alert.

Stage one of Margo's awakening had finally ended around noon. What it had left behind was a receptive reservoir that was unbelievably strong, wide, and deep. He had never seen such power in a woman; he'd barely seen stronger receptive natures in the trained adepts he'd lived among in The Temple Of The Cobras. Her projective side was proportionately weaker in comparison to her receptive side, but that was to be expected considering how receptively strong she was. In many ways, the two of them were mirror reflections—yin and yang, each with a strength the other lacked. He longed for her to wake up so he could tell her all about it. He longed for her to just wake up, period.

But there were hours left to go, and he knew it. Stage two was now in full swing. Her adult memories were taking longer to process than he'd expected, revealing dark secrets that she'd never told him. He'd found out about lovers she'd had, marriages she'd almost gone through with before walking out and devastating the men who'd loved her, people she'd used and abused, people who'd used and abused her. And the endless stream of memories brought her tremendous pain, and a great deal of shame, all of it visible on her face. He felt so sorry for her; he wished he could take away her pain and sorrow, make her understand that he didn't care about her past. He stepped out onto the balcony and took another set of deep breaths to calm himself, refocus his mind so he could be her strong, calm center again.

He heard a moan from the bed and looked toward it.

She shivered against the cold air coming in off the patio. The sounds she made matched the pain in the expression on her face.

He came back inside and closed the French doors, then adjusted the covers around her. Sorry, Margo. It was getting a little stuffy in here. He dabbed her brow with the cool washcloth, then checked her progress.

She was still draining old, painful memories as they came to the surface. But this batch was more recent. This batch included him.

Lamont watched in horror as the cruel side of his personality showed in her memories of their early encounters. The way he'd withdrawn from her at their first dinner after trying to seduce her, making her feel used. The coldness in his eyes as she'd gone after him at the Cobalt Club, trying to get his opinion on her father's odd behavior. The dark power and painful static he'd projected into her as tried to force her to forget she'd inadvertently heard the name "Ying Ko" coming from his memories. The rage in his eyes when she discovered his secret. The terror of seeing the violent, evil Ying Ko in his dreams.

Those memories began to whirl in circles through her mind. He shook with pain, terror, and self-hatred. Oh, love, I am so sorry about all of that. I wish I could say I didn't mean any of it, but the truth is that I did do that deliberately...all of it. He ran his hands through his hair. Oh, God, how can you love me after I did all that to you? You must think I'm some kind of monster. And you'd be right. He buried his face in his hands, fighting back tears.

I love it when you feel sorry for yourself.

Lamont looked up at the sound of the all-too-familiar voice.

Ying Ko stared back at him, smiling wickedly as he leaned against the bedpost. Go ahead, Lamont. Punish yourself for your dark, dastardly deeds. You know you deserve it.

Lamont was angry now. The last thing Margo needed was for him to fall apart like this. You don't exist, he snapped back at himself. And I am not giving in to what you self-hatred and self-pity.

Ying Ko looked petulant. Fine. Tell me to go away.

Go away.

A wicked, wicked laugh. You almost sounded like you meant that. Almost. He gestured over Margo. Poor thing. You know, you really are cruel to her.

Lamont scowled. Was. Past tense.

Oh, really? You knew her awakening was coming. You were certain it was just days away. But you didn't tell her that. Oh, no, you made up some story about wanting to "share a sense of peace" with her, just so she'd go along and not ask any questions. You even gave her a pretty little bauble so you could make some pious speech about how much she's given you and how you wanted to "give something back". A sneer. You're a selfish bastard, Lamont, you know that?

Lamont scoffed. You'll have to do better than that. I don't feel the least bit of remorse about the decision to bring her here.

If you don't feel the least bit of remorse, why did you cringe when I brought it up? A derisive laugh.

Oh, and I suppose I should have stayed in the city and let the cacophony drive her insane?

That's not the part you feel guilty about. You feel guilty about keeping secrets. And you know you'll never be able to keep them from her again. She'll see right through you. She'll see what you really are inside.

Lamont looked at his dark side. She's already seen you. And she's not scared of you.

Another sneer. That's not what I'm seeing. And if you are, you're fooling yourself. Ying Ko shook his head. Face it, Lamont, you don't want this for her. You want this for yourself. You don't give a damn about her, or her "development", or anything like that. You just want someone you can lord your powers over under the pretense of "training" her, look so heroic to while you show off. It puffs up your ego and makes you feel like you're actually worthy of all this love and affection she gives you. You're selfish, Lamont. Even now, all you can think about is whether she's going to love you when she wakes up...not if she'll ever even come out of all this. A wicked, evil laugh.

Lamont lunged for the demon, absolute fury in his expression.

A second later, he hit the floor beside the bed. The impact jolted him back to reality. He looked around.

The sun that had been setting when he sat beside Margo was now long down, and the sky was pitch black. I fell asleep, he groaned mentally. Oh, I can't believe it. Margo, I am so sorry... He sat down on the bed next to her and reached into her mind.

The memories had stopped spinning. In fact, they were drained away. Everything was drained away. Now there was nothing in her mind...nothing at all.

Lamont's eyes widened.!

Nothing. Just dark emptiness as far as his mental eye could see.

Oh, God, I waited too long... He took her hand and concentrated his projective powers. Margo, it's Lamont—answer me!

Gradually, a motion appeared in the darkness. Then, a very frightened presence drifted into his view. Lamont...Lamont, help me...

Even that weak mental voice sounded like music to his mind. Margo, love, I'm here.

Fear swirled through her mind. Everything suddenly got so quiet...I was all alone...what happened? Why did it all stop?

He tried to hold back his emotions. She wasn't out of danger yet. She still needed him to be the calm center after all her trauma, to lead her back to herself. You made it. You survived.

Confusion was now swirling through her mind. It's over?

It will be, once you bring yourself back to consciousness.

The presence faded slightly. I'm so tired...

I know. He stroked her cheek. After all that, I know the only thing you want to do is sleep. But you have to open your eyes. You need to force yourself to think coherently again. That will help your mind begin to heal. He squeezed her hand. Come on, love. Open your eyes and tell me your name.

The presence faded more.

Lamont tried to banish fear from his thoughts. Margo, open your eyes. You have to do this now or you'll be trapped forever inside your own mind. Open your eyes. Say your name.

Her eyelids fluttered, and then she opened them and looked at him. "Margo Lane," she whispered weakly.

He couldn't hold back the emotions any longer as he pulled her into a tight embrace. "Oh, Margo..." He broke down crying as he held her close.

"Lamont..." She couldn't finish the sentence as she began crying as well. "Oh, God, I was so scared..."

"I know." He gently laid her back down, stroking her cheek, wiping away her tears. "But you did great. Oh, you did wonderfully."

She could barely hold her eyes open. "I feel so weak..."

"Well, considering you've just been through the equivalent of a psychic torture chamber, and considering it's been over two days since you had anything to eat or drink, I'd say that's about normal." He reached over to the nightstand and picked up the cup of tea he'd brewed for himself earlier. "Ugh. It's cold. I'll get you something warmer..."

She looked frightened and clutched his arm. "Don't leave me."

He stroked her cheek reassuringly. "I'm not going anywhere." He looked at the cup. "But I'm sure you don't want this. Let me get you another cup."

"No!" She held on to his arm for dear life.

He understood what was happening. The confusion of nearly two days of non-stop mental assaults would be enough to frighten anyone; waking up in an unfamiliar room surrounded by nothing at all she could identify as her own was only adding to the confusion, and she was clinging to the only thing she recognized as being safe. But he had to force her to think coherently. "Are you sure? It's really cold, and probably stale..."

"I don't care...just don't leave me."

"All right." He put the teacup on the nightstand and helped her sit up, propping both pillows behind her back. "Easy does it...easy."

She pitched forward as she sat up, bent nearly in half as her head came to rest on her knees.

"Whoa." He eased her back against the pillows. "Little disoriented there?"

"Oh, God," she moaned, her face pale. "I can't even tell which way is up."

He picked up the water basin, wrung out the washcloth, and wiped the cold sweat from her forehead. "Here's a hint—your knees are down."

She giggled weakly.

He smiled. At least she still understood a tease. He put the basin down, then took the cup of tea off the nightstand and placed it in her hands. "Let's get some liquids in you. Drink."

Her hands shook so violently she nearly spilled the tea.

He put his hands on hers to steady them, then helped guide it up to her lips. "Easy, Margo. Here you go."

She took a sip of tea, swallowed it, then steadied herself. Then, she took another sip, then a couple more, each getting a bit more confident. Finally, she looked at him. "Ugh. Stale tea."

He smiled broadly. She was starting to get more coherent. "I tried to warn you." He took the cup from her. "Shall I pour you a fresh cup, madam?"


He took her hands and kissed them, then got up off the bed and headed to the bathroom to rinse out the teacup.

Margo looked herself over for the first time. "What the...where did this come from?"

Lamont peeked out of the bathroom to see her staring at the sleeves of her nightgown. "You were a little chilly. I had the innkeeper fetch that for you." A smile. "You look good in red."

"I look like a Christmas present." She looked in the large mirror mounted over the dresser and ran her fingers frustratedly through her disheveled blonde hair. "Ugh. A Christmas present with a ratty bow. I'm a fright."

He took the kettle off the fire, checked to see that there was still water in it, then poured some into the teapot and steeped some fresh tea. Then he turned to her and smiled. "You've never looked more beautiful."

She scowled. "You're hallucinating."

He put on his best mock-wounded expression. "I'm not the one who just spent almost two days with her psyche exploding."

Her eyes widened. "Two days?"

"Well, just over a day and a half, actually. Not bad, considering how strong it was...and how strong it made you." He poured a cup of tea for her and brought it back to the bed, then placed it in her hands and helped guide it to her lips.

She sipped, then looked at him again. "How strong it made me? Good grief, I can't hear a word you're thinking. And normally I can pick out your thoughts so easily...I feel almost deaf right now."

"That's absolutely normal. The last stage of an awakening drains all your psychic energies so that your mind can rebuild itself fresh. Trust me, you'll start hearing voices again soon enough." He stroked her cheek lovingly.

She took another sip. "I feel so dense, though. Are you sure I'm awakened?"

"Oh, I'm sure." His expression turned to one of marvel. "I underestimated you badly. You've got a lot more there than I thought you'd have."

She looked at him oddly. "I do?"

A chuckle. "You don't believe it. I knew you wouldn't. I didn't believe The Tulku either when he told me I was a very powerful telepath. But you've got amazing power. You should see how much power you'll be able to wield once you learn to control it."

Now she looked askance. "You're serious," she realized.

It was truth-telling time. He took the cup from her and set it aside, then took her hands. "When I came out of my awakening, Marpa Tulku wouldn't tell me how much power I had because he didn't want that knowledge to interfere with my development, or make me cocky or arrogant. He knew that with the right training, when all that power finally did begin asserting itself, I'd be ready to handle it. But he could get away with that because he was Marpa Tulku...and because of my receptive weaknesses. I won't be able to hide anything from you, my dear. No one will." He took a deep breath, then met her curious gaze. "Margo, you are as strong receptively as I am projectively. That's how much power you have."

She looked astonished, then gasped several times, as if she'd forgotten to breathe for a few seconds. "Oh, my God...I'll go mad..."

He reached up and stroked her cheek. "It'll feel like that for a few weeks. I won't lie to you about that. We'll stay here for a few days while your psyche heals, so that when we get back to New York, you'll have a leg up on deflecting the intruding thoughts out of your head. But the next few weeks are going to be really hard, and really painful. That's one of the reasons I wanted to bring you out here..."

"...because you knew I was about to awaken and you didn't want it happening in the city."

He nodded.

"And you didn't tell me because you didn't want to frighten me."

He nodded again, then looked away in shame.

Something tugged at his mind. He looked back at her.

She was rubbing her temples. "Now I can feel it," she whispered. "Now I can hear you again."

He sighed. "Then you know how sorry I am for lying to you."

"But you did it to protect me. I understand that." She frowned. "Why do you think you were selfish?"

He smiled wistfully. She was pulling the thoughts out of his mind faster than he could organize them. "Because I kept all this from you. I wanted you as my equal, my balance, and I kept things from you that would have helped you understand what was going on because I wanted you to just let it happen." He looked her in the eye. "But when I saw how scared you were, I hated what I'd done. I should have been honest with you, up front about my motives for keeping things from you. I wouldn't blame you a bit if you sent me away, called off the engagement..."

Now she looked frightened. "You saw. You saw how I used all those men, tossed them aside when I had no more use for them." She began shaking. "Oh, God...Lamont, don't leave me..."

He looked astounded. "You're afraid I'm going to walk out?" He took her into his arms and held her close. "Margo, if you think I'm leaving you, then you need to work on your receptive skills."

She clutched him tightly. "Oh, no, I don't. You're echoing through my head right now." She winced. "Everything is. Oh...ow...what's happening?"

He pulled back from her slightly and looked into her eyes. "Look at me," he ordered.

She did so.

He met almost no resistance as he swept into her mind easily. Your mind's starting to regenerate. But your subconscious barriers are so battered from the awakening that they can't protect your mind from external thoughts, so when your receptive energies start swirling and pulling again, everything around you gets drawn in. That's why you're in pain. This is what you're going to have to learn to control, and what will probably drive you crazy for the first few weeks. Consider this your first lesson. Relax and trust me.

"Of course I trust you..."

I know. But don't say anything. Just feel what I'm doing...because you're going to have to learn to do it for yourself. He pushed more projective energy into her mind, wrapping it around her receptive reservoir and pressing it against the intruding thoughts.

Margo felt something swirling inside her mind and swelling in volume. "Feels like you're blowing up a balloon."

It's a good analogy. Now, relax.

The swirling energy kept increasing in volume, pressing outward right behind her eyes. The pain got worse for an instant, then suddenly drained away.

Feel better now?

She looked at him. "That's incredible! How did you do that?"

Redirection of mental energy. It's a hypnotic trick The Tulku taught me. Projectors have to redirect their energies to pull inward because their reservoirs push outward naturally. Receptors have to push outward because their minds pull inward. You'll have to learn to push back against the pain when it hits so that it'll pop like an overinflated balloon. That relieves the pressure on your subconscious barriers from the incoming thoughts. It's something you'll have to do every so often for the rest of your life unless you exercise your mind a lot, but you'll get used to it pretty quickly. As your barriers repair themselves, you'll have to do it less and less frequently—and once you learn to project your thoughts, you probably won't have to do it much at all because the techniques of thought projection will take care of it for you. A chuckle. This is probably more than you wanted to know right now. You've been through a lot the past couple of days, and your mind is just exhausted. I'll let you get some rest. He stopped projecting and helped her lie back against the pillows.

Suddenly, he felt another tug against his mind. He projected back into her mind immediately. Margo? Are you hurting again? You shouldn't need to relieve pressure so soon...

I don't. She looked sheepish. But it feels good to have you in there. I know it tires you out, but...

Sh-h. He slipped off his shoes and climbed into bed next to her, then took her in his arms. It feels good to be connected to you like this. And your mind is so open right now it's no work at all for me to get in or hear you thinking. I just didn't want to overwhelm you. My mind has a tendency to do that.

She snuggled against him. I know. I heard you the whole way through my awakening.

I figured as much. I'm sorry if I was too loud for you.

She shook her head. Don't be. It was the only thing that kept me sane. Every time something would get to be too much to bear, I'd hear your voice telling me you loved me, or that I was doing fine, or some other reassuring words. Of course, I heard you fussing at yourself a few times...and at me, too. She looked up at him. Did I really spill water all over you?

He laughed. Oh, yes. I was upset with you for about a second. Then I decided you were trying to tell me I needed a bath.

She rubbed his cheek, rippling the two-day growth of beard that shadowed his face. No—just a shave.

He smiled and scratched his chin. I always look like I need a shave. I'll get one in the morning. He kissed the top of her head. You're probably hungry, and I'm starving. Shall I order us some dinner?

I don't think I could stay awake long enough to eat it. She snuggled against him and closed her eyes. Besides, it's almost midnight. I think the restaurant is probably closed.

Probably. I could go out and get us something...

She looked up at him and made an annoyed face. Lamont, go to sleep. Your mind is spinning worse than mine is. We'll have breakfast in bed in the morning.

He smiled and rocked her gently. She was right, of course. There would be time for meals, time for discussions, time for lessons, time for training, time for everything later. Right now, the only thing each of them needed was the other.

He eased one of the pillows out from under her back, then lay down and pulled her close once more as they both descended into much-needed sleep.